Design Registrations & Design Right

Design registrations and Design Right protect the look of a product rather than its functionality. Registrations can protect surface ornamentation or the shape of a product, and require a formal application to be made at the Intellectual Property Office. In contrast, “unregistered” Design Right is an automatic right which can protect the shape of products and requires no formal application.

Design Registrations last up to 25 years.

Design Right lasts 10 – 15 years

UK Registrations may be filed up to 12 months from disclosure by the designer

There are various exclusions to such protection

Supplementary Design Right also protects surface ornamentation for 3 years

Design Registrations

A valid design registration needs to be new and have “individual character”. However, unlike patents, applications for design registration are not substantively examined for such validity requirements. They must however meet certain formality requirements to be registered.

Accordingly, design registrations can be a useful and relatively quick IP strategy to protect a designer’s work whilst inhibiting freedom of design of competitors. They give the registration owner the right to stop others using a product with the same look as the registered design, as well as stopping products which do not give an informed user a different overall impression from the registered design. Features which are solely dictated by technical function cannot be protected by design registration. Nevertheless, there may still be some merit in registered designs for functional items.

Unregistered Design Right

Unregistered Design Right may be loosely thought of as “industrial copyright”. It is established automatically by a qualifying person creating a three-dimensional design which is not commonplace or excluded. It lasts for 10 years from first marketing, or 15 years from design.

To infringe Design Right, a third party needs to copy the design entirely or substantially. This right can be very useful to tackle a third party who copies a design, including industrial designs, rather than designing it themselves. Functional devices may have valid protection although there are exclusions from protection for designs whose shape is solely reliant on another article to interface with, or match the appearance of.

Supplementary Unregistered Design Right

This is a short-term unregistered design right which lasts for three years from making it public. It can protect surface patterns as well as shapes. 


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No, they protect different aspects of a product. Designs protect the look, whilst patents protect the functionality. They can be used solely or in combination as part of a holistic IP strategy.

No. Exclusions are generally applied narrowly. For example, if there are various ways to achieve the same functionality, such a design may still be valid.

This can be a difficult assessment to make and requires expertise. However, often it is more strategic to file for the design registration at least as a deterrent to others, and to re-visit the validity question if there is a possible infringement of the design.

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